Onyango Oloo: Brutal Crackdown on Peaceful Muslims - The Star

I am writing this piece at around a quarter to five in the afternoon on Friday, January 15, in downtown Nairobi.

About three hours ago I finished a meeting with my friend Zahid Raj an, editor of the Awaaz magazine, at the Steers Cafe opposite the historic Jeevanjee Gardens. As I strolled away towards the Jamia Mall, I heard a burst of gunfire, and saw wisps of smoke.

As a veteran of street demonstrations it was obvious I was witnessing the familiar government response to peaceful protest action — teargas, live bullets and other brutal acts by the riot police.

Looking down the street I could see a clutch of mostly young men clad in Kanzus and Muslim caps with their tasbih prayer beads running helter skelter.

And then I saw the phalanx of Kenyan cops marching resolutely up the same street releasing bursts of gunfire and exploding teargas not just on the demonstrators but on everybody — the shoppers streaming from the Tuskys supermarket; the terrified motorists; the tourists caught unawares as they were exiting curio stores.

I quickly detoured from Muindi Mbingu Street branching into Biashara Street before making my way down a narrow side lane onto the street below, making a left turn towards the Jamia Mall.

I met a very traumatized twenty-something Somali lady screaming that the cops were firing live bullets. Everyone around me looked very scared, even as shouts of "Allah Akbar!" and "Takbir!" rang from down Muindi Mbingu with the rising angry voices of the young Muslim demonstrators.

On the ground floor, security guards were busy shuttering the entrances of shops in the mall.

Volleys came from all directions — from Kimathi Street near Ranalo's and the Nation Centre; from Muindi Mbingu and even seemingly from as far as Chester House and the Florida Mad House on Koinange Street.

Soon another phalanx of riot cops was marching down Muindi Mbingu Street.

Feeling uncomfortably boxed in, I walked out in the direction of Biashara Street. As I was walking, I heard further bursts of gunfire with people screaming, "They are firing live bullets! Be careful!"

At the intersection of Koinange Street and Kenytta Avenue, a truck load of riot police halted near the Emperor Plaza where I was standing a few seconds earlier.

Civilians panicked and started running in all directions with a grey haired middle aged man almost being knocked over by an equally rattled City Hoppa driver in the ensuing melee.

Outside Salama House near the Nairobi Java House, I stopped a young Muslim man and asked him fervently for an update.

Without stopping he said breathlessly that the police had already shot dead one man and there were four other civilians with serious injuries.

What was all this about? A demonstration erupted outside the Jamia Mosque after the midday prayers, an action called for by the Muslim for Human Rights Forum to protest the continued incarceration of the Jamaican cleric, Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal.

Friends and allies filed a case in court challenging his detention without trial. A few days ago, Justice Jeanne Gacheche stopped his deportation pending an appearance in her court.

A few days earlier, Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang admitted that the preacher had not, broken any Kenyan laws and had entered the country legally. During his short stay in Kenya, Sheikh al Faisal did not give any incendiary speeches or incite anyone to commit any terrorist acts.

Instead it became apparent that the pressures to deport the controversial cleric were orders emanating from external Western sources. Without holding brief for Sheikh al-Faisal for his abominable comments targeting other ethnic and racial groups, it should be pointed out that Kenya is a safe haven for Italian mafioso gangsters, convicted European paedophiles, apartheid era South African arms dealers, and fugitives from justice of the Rwanda genocide.

The brutal attack on peaceful demonstrators exercising their constitutionally sanctioned democratic rights of freedom of assembly is yet another sad paragraph in the ongoing blood stained chapter of state terrorism against the Kenyan citizenry.

By invading the Jamia Mosque, the Kenyan authorities have committed sacrilege. One wonders at the thunderous silence of Kenya's leading human rights organisations in this matter.

The fact that some ordinary Kenyans, whipped up by anti-Muslim frenzied propaganda, actually joined the police in stoning their fellow Kenyans is a sad commentary about the role of far-right Christian evangelical bigotry in driving a wedge among Kenyans who have existed for a very long time in ecumenical multi-faith harmony.

The Kenyan state should not be surprised if their unprovoked assault pushes younger Muslims towards more militant positions.

Is that what we want in Kenya in 2010?

The author is a Kenyan political commentator who served five years at Kamiti Prison and two decades in exile in the Moi Era.

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